Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 JUNE/JULY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he reasons are many as to why foot- ball reunion events like the one held in late April during the Blue-Gold Game weekend have been essentially non-existent at Notre Dame for the last several years. COVID-19 limited travel and campus gatherings since early 2020 and until a couple of years ago, there really was no composite database or efficient way to find and invite the hundreds of former players to return to campus or to orga- nize an event attractive enough to bring 'em back. And let's face it, every head coach conducts his own business in his own way. And for some skippers, especially the veterans, sharing the spotlight with former players or inviting outsiders into the program doesn't fit the plan. But in what one coach might consider intrusive, Marcus Freeman views as op- portunity, and so the first-year Irish head coach went to work with Notre Dame director of football player devel- opment Hunter Bivin to locate these football alumni, pull them together and bring them back to campus to celebrate the program's heritage, not bury it. Among the 300 or so players who accepted Freeman and Bivin's invite to Legacy Weekend during Blue-Gold Game festivities, the support for the lively four-day gathering and anticipa- tion of future events was overwhelming. "'Let's get everybody back,' that's [Free- man's] attitude," two-time Irish offensive line All-American Aaron Taylor (class of 1993) said in an interview with Peacock, NBC's internet streaming service. "Let's celebrate this history of what makes this place great. That's been missing." Taylor spoke up from a notable group of visiting football alumni that included legendary All-Americans such as Terry Hanratty (1968) and Luther Bradley (1977) — both of who played at Notre Dame before Freeman, 36, was even born — along with legendary NFL Hall of Fame and Irish All-American defen- sive lineman Bryant Young (1993), Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Je- rome Bettis (1992), standout quarter- back Brady Quinn (2006) recent Irish quarterback Ian Book (2020), and too many others to list. Scott Raridon, a Notre Dame long snapper and offensive lineman during the early 2000s, was also in town for Legacy Weekend. And based on his experiences and accounts, this successful reunion is only the first of many more to come. "Having so many former players around is really healthy because it adds to the appeal of the culture of the program, which is already strong," said Raridon, who believes attendance next spring will at least double and eclipse 600. Raridon brought a unique perspective to the weekend because his son Eli is a 2022 tight end recruit who will arrive on campus in June. The elder Raridon called it a "genius move" to unite former players and incoming recruits that will help make Freeman's program stronger. "You finally feel like even when you're done playing, you'll be welcomed back and can still be a part of it. That was missing," Raridon said. "It's fun to come back and not feel like we were imposing. It's important for all of us." Prep linebacker Tre Reader, a 2022 Notre Dame commit from Tampa, Fla., who was also in town for the Blue-Gold Game, agreed with those sentiments. "The connections I made with the past players are incredibly valuable to me," Reader shared after his visit. "It speaks volumes to how special of a place Notre Dame is and the doors it can open for you." Notre Dame proudly celebrates its family feel. It boasts about a wide net- working net and a "four-for-40" ca- reer payoff upon graduation. But some around the program believe those mes- sages gradually became idle talking points more than real-life applications. Freeman, an Ohio State graduate, hopes to patch that disconnect. Instead of using terms such as "mine" or "me" when asked to describe his pro- gram, Freeman prefers "ours" and "us," and his vision stretches well outside the walls of the Notre Dame football building. "I want these former players to come back because this is their home," Free- man said. "They've built Notre Dame football to where it's at." And judging by Freeman's first re- union weekend, the Irish football family is thrilled to be back, and ready for some overdue reconstruction. ✦ Freeman had around 300 former Notre Dame football players show up for the first Legacy Weekend under his watch. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Marcus Freeman Embracing Notre Dame's History Is A Wise And Welcome Reset UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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